Posts about Politics
Turnout was low in Maryland's primary election yesterday, but there were some surprises, especially in the local races. What does it mean for urbanism in the state, particularly in Montgomery and Prince George's counties? Our contributors offer their thoughts.
Ronit Dancis: Though primary elections tend to draw out the voters most inclined to oppose change, candidates in Montgomery County who campaigned on an anti-growth platform didn't perform well. In the at-large council race, groups including the Sierra Club threw their support behind anti-growth candidates Beth Daly and Marc Elrich while targeting Purple Line advocate George Leventhal, who had just cast crucial votes against M-83 and Ten Mile Creek.
As in 2010, Marc Elrich won first place, but Beth Daly, who campaigned as "Marc's second vote," took 5th place in a race for four seats. In District 3, developer ally Sid Katz defeated two opponents more attuned to smart growth. As a result, the council will have a three-person pro-development bloc, with Katz, Craig Rice (District 2) and Nancy Floreen (at-large).
Dan Reed: Smart growth supporters got a win of sorts in Montgomery's Council District 5, containing Silver Spring, Takoma Park, White Oak, and Burtonsville. Current state delegate Tom Hucker is leading former journalist Evan Glass by just over 200 votes.
A 12-year resident of downtown Silver Spring, Glass helped start the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association, bringing together a redeveloping urban district that's one of the region's youngest neighborhoods. He's advocated for more affordable housing, the county's Bus Rapid Transit plan, and changing the county's liquor laws to support local businesses and nightlife.
As state delegate, Tom Hucker fought for the Purple Line and has support from the building trades, who are naturally pro-development. But as a council candidate, he opposed new housing near the Silver Spring and Takoma Metro stations. He also allied with Councilmember Marc Elrich, who received donations from real estate interests even as he lambasted Glass for doing the same.
This tight race suggests that voters aren't necessarily interested in the "growth-vs.-no growth" debate. It also gives Glass has a good place to start from if he ever runs for office in the future. (Full disclosure: I supported Evan Glass's campaign.)
Ben Ross: Legislative results brought some good news for urbanists. Two strong transit advocates will enter the House of Delegates: David Moon, a former Purple Line Now! and Communities for Transit staffer, won in District 20 (Silver Spring and Takoma Park), and attorney Marc Korman in District 16 (Bethesda and Potomac). Susan Lee moved up easily into the Senate in District 16 while Lou Simmons, the county's lone vote against the gas tax increase, failed to advance to the Senate in District 17.
In District 18, containing Chevy Chase, Kensington, and Wheaton, lone Purple Line supporter among the incumbent delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez was easily reelected, while senator and Purple Line opponent Rich Madaleno fended off a surprisingly strong challenge from Purple Line supporter Dana Beyer.
Jim Titus: The primary results for bicycling were as good as we could have hoped. Brian Frosh has been one of the State Senate's key supporters for bicycling rights, and we can expect an informed perspective should the need arise for an official opinion of the Attorney General. That is certainly better than the outgoing Attorney General, who advised state police that stop signs are optional, at least when he is the passenger.
On the Prince George's County Council, the strongest bike supporter has been Eric Olson, who was term limited. But his chief assistant Danielle Glaros will replace him. She will be a strong voice for the eventual urbanization of New Carrollton, thorough technical understanding, and sufficient political skills that she will almost certainly serve a term as Council Chairman.
The most controversial primary in Montgomery County this year might be for the at-large council seat. More so than any race, this one focuses on how the county should grow and whether it can meet the increasing demand for urban, transit-served communities.
There are six candidates vying for four at-large seats on the County Council. The incumbents include Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal, both elected on a pro-growth slate in 2002 and finishing their third terms; former teacher Marc Elrich, who won on a slow-growth platform in 2006; and Hans Riemer, a former political campaign director elected in 2010. The challengers are Beth Daly, director of political ad sales for Telemundo, and Vivian Malloy, retired Army nurse and member of the county's Democratic Central Committee.
All six candidates filled out the Action Committee for Transit's questionnaire for the scorecard, which is based on both their responses and public statements. This year, how ACT rated the candidates' responses has become a story of its own.
Riemer, Leventhal, and Floreen want more housing in urban areas; Daly and Elrich say we'll have enough
As with the Purple Line, all six candidates say they support building in the county's downtowns and near transit, where more people are interested in living and where an increasing share of the county's growth is happening. But they disagreed on where exactly to build, and how much new housing was necessary.
Riemer. Image from Maryland Manual On-line.
Riemer pointed to accessory apartments as one way to increase affordable housing, while Floreen named specific impediments to building more affordable housing, such as the county's parking requirements and developer fees. Both Riemer and Vivian Malloy advocated increased funding for the county's affordable housing programs.
Meanwhile, Elrich and Daly both say the county is growing too fast, though much of the county is pretty stable. Elrich has been especially critical of plans to around future Purple Line stations at Long Branch and Chevy Chase Lake, both of which he voted against.
Daly. Image from her campaign website.
Candidates say they support the Purple Line, though Daly is hesitant
Leventhal. Image from his campaign website.
Malloy. Image from her campaign website.
Both Vivian Malloy and Beth Daly wrote in their questionnaires that they support the Purple Line. Daly has expressed some skepticism about the Purple Line both in the questionnaire and in public appearances, which earned her a minus on the scorecard.
Support for complete streets, but disagreement over how to make them
Floreen. Image from Maryland Manual On-line.
Elrich and Floreen say they support complete streets, but have also pointed to the road code bill they passed in 2008, which encourage pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly street design but allowed wide roads that encourage drivers to speed. Daly wrote that she supported complete streets "in the more densely populated regions of the county."
Strong support for Bus Rapid Transit, and opposition to new highways
Elrich. Image from Maryland Manual On-line.
Daly testified in favor of BRT at public hearings last year, but said she wanted to "look at creative solutions" for creating bus lanes on narrow, congested roads. Floreen, who has been skeptical of the BRT plan, said her support would "depend on the particular location."
Meanwhile, all six candidates say they oppose the M-83 highway, which would go from Montgomery Village to Clarksburg, and would prefer a less costly alternative that involved transit.
Voters face two different paths in this race
The conventional wisdom is that Nancy Floreen, who's raised the most money, and Marc Elrich, who received the most votes four years ago, are safe. That makes the real contest between George Leventhal and Hans Riemer, who have spent their terms encouraging new investment in the county's downtowns and discouraging it in environmentally sensitive areas, and Beth Daly, who's called herself "Marc's second vote" and has mainly talked about slowing things down across the board.
Of all of the races in Montgomery County, this one may offer the starkest differences in candidates' positions when it comes to transportation and development issues. Simply because the voices in the at-large race have been so strong, changing any one of them this year could have a big impact on the county's direction over the next four years.
Full disclosure: Dan Reed worked in George Leventhal's council office from 2009-2010.
Pointing to busy roads and crowded schools, some candidates in this year's Montgomery County primary election say the county is growing too fast. But people are going to come anyway, making the real issue where that growth should happen.
Montgomery County's urban and newer suburban communities are growing, while older suburbs are slowing down. Image by the author.
The county's actually not growing that fast
In 2006, voters weary of the housing boom brought in a county executive and several councilmembers who promised to slow things down. The recession made people hungry for investment again, especially on the poorer eastern side of the county, but some residents and candidates this year are arguing that the county's still growing too fast and that developers need to "pay their share."
Today, Montgomery has just over one million residents, adding about 100,000 residents between 2000 and 2010, a rate of 11%. That might seem like a lot, but it pales in comparison to most of the 20th century, when the county added as many as 180,000 residents each decade and doubled in population during the 1950s. In recent years, the county's grown slower than many other parts of the region, including the District and Arlington.
Growth is going to the county's downtowns and walkable neighborhoods
According to the 2000 Census and 2008-2012 American Community Survey, most parts of the county aren't changing that much. Many of the county's older suburban and rural communities, from Chevy Chase to Poolesville, saw little increase in population over the past decade, and in some cases even lost people.
Instead, much of the county's growth is going to its downtowns, like Bethesda, Wheaton, and Silver Spring, which doubled in population between 2000 and 2010. Dense, walkable neighborhoods like Kentlands in Gaithersburg and King Farm in Rockville also had substantial growth. These places already have infrastructure like schools and transit in place, as well as nearby shopping and jobs so new residents don't have to drive or drive as far.
Montgomery County's population has grown, but the amount of driving miles hasn't.
Graph from the Planning Department.
But growth is still happening in areas far from amenities and transit. Clarksburg quadrupled in population between 2000 and 2010, making it the county's fastest-growing community. Though it added 9,500 residents in 10 years, Clarksburg didn't even have a grocery store until last year, has overcrowded schools, and few transit connections to the rest of the county.
New development isn't why school enrollment is rising
Some candidates this year blame new development on rising enrollment in Montgomery County Public Schools, which is adding 2,000 kids each year. In a campaign video, at-large challenger Beth Daly describes driving past a school with portable classrooms. She and her kids shake their heads. "Doesn't the county know that additional growth requires additional infrastructure?" she asks.
But many of the county's most crowded schools are in neighborhoods where the population isn't growing. Researchers for MCPS say this happens due to other factors, like older families moving out and younger families taking their place, new all-day kindergarten programs that mean classrooms can't "double up" to hold two half-day classes, or families returning from private school (though in many parts of the county, the reverse is happening.)
Slowing or even stopping new development won't change this. Developers have to pay "impact fees" to cover the cost of schools and roads near new construction, but the county doesn't collect anything in places where nothing's being built.
We can't afford to not grow
In many ways, Montgomery County has moved past the "growth vs. no growth" debate, which at-large councilmember Hans Riemer calls "outdated." Riemer and fellow at-large councilmember George Leventhal have talked about the benefits of new investment, whether it's paying for the things people want and need, like schools and transit, or the ability to attract younger residents.
It's also easy to see the consequences of restricting growth in places like East County, which was in a development moratorium for many years due to traffic concerns. There aren't any portable classrooms at Springbrook High School in White Oak, which has over 400 empty seats. Burtonsville's village center has been hemorraging businesses since a highway bypass opened, and abandoned or unkempt houses aren't an uncommon sight in neighborhoods still wracked by the recession. It's no surprise that residents support plans to create a town center in White Oak.
Building in the right places is the way to manage growth, not simply slowing it down. Photo by the author.
Directing growth to our town centers and areas near transit can meet the demand for new housing and give people what they want. But it also reduces the pressure to develop other parts of the county, whether it's suburban neighborhoods, the Agricultural Reserve, or parks.
That's the real solution to growth: making it easier to build in the right places, so we can provide the infrastructure and be able to pay for it. It may be more complicated that saying "slow down," but it's ultimately the best path for the county's future.
Last night, US House majority leader Eric Cantor lost the Republican primary to a tea party challenger who painted Cantor as too willing to compromise with Democrats. Cantor's loss makes this summer's looming congressional fight over transportation funding all the more unpredictable.
MAP-21, the federal transportation funding bill, expires in October. But the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) will begin running out of money in August. Without a bipartisan bill to add new money, federal transportation funding will trickle to a halt.
Transportation wasn't a major issue in Cantor's election, but immigration reform was. Cantor mostly opposed immigration reform, but he briefly contemplated compromise, giving his more conservative opponent David Brat an opening to attack.
Some pundits fear that will push every other House Republican away from compromise in general, and grind whatever progress Congress was making on anything to a halt.
From an immigration perspective that probably makes little difference; House Republicans were not going to compromise anyway. But it could make a huge difference for transportation.
Transportation funding was a non-partisan issue in the 20th Century. Every six years Congress would pass a transportation bill with broad support from both parties. But in recent years, amid declining gas tax revenue and increasing need for supplemental funding, transportation has become a partisan spark.
Congress seemed primed to act, but now it's an open question
Up until Cantor's defeat, the general assumption in the transportation world has been that Congress would do something this summer. "Something" might mean a long term solution like a new bill and new taxes. Or it might mean a band-aid, like an extension of MAP-21 with an infusion of federal general fund dollars. Either way, Congress appeared to be making some progress.
But now? House Republicans might very well cease all legislative activity, and hope to ride out the rest of election season without upsetting their conservative base.
While in Congress, Cantor fought against progressive transportation funding. But in this case his personal vote, and even his leadership on the specifics, might be less important than the simple fact that he was probably willing to advance a bill.
On the other hand, maybe the Republican establishment will take this as a call to arms, and moderate legislators will become more powerful. But that seems unlikely the day after the biggest tea party victory of the season.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Montgomery County's District 3 will be at the heart of several key new transit projects in the coming years. Will its new councilmember push to surround them with new, walkable neighborhoods, or move forward with a 1960s-era road plan?
Located in the heart of the county, District 3 contains the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, along with Leisure World and Derwood. It's a fast-growing area, but most new development is designed around the approved Corridor Cities Transitway and a proposed Bus Rapid Transit line on Route 355. It also contains part of the proposed M-83 highway between Gaithersburg and Clarksburg.
After 16 years representing the area, current councilmember Phil Andrews is leaving to run for County Executive. Running to replace him are Gaithersburg mayor Sidney Katz and city councilmember Ryan Spiegel, Rockville councilmember Tom Moore, and local activist Guled Kassim. Only Spiegel and Moore returned their ACT questionnaires.
Candidates agree on complete streets, building near transit
District 3 has grown significantly in recent years, adding 25,000 people between 2000 and 2010. Much of that growth is happening in Rockville and Gaithersburg's existing town centers, or in new, urban neighborhoods like Crown in Gaithersburg, which will be on the Corridor Cities Transitway. And both candidates agree that this is the right way to go.
Moore, who grew up in Montgomery County, cited his support for Rockville Town Center as evidence of his record on building near transit. If elected, he says he'll "push to concentrate Montgomery County's housing growth along our existing transit corridors" and along future transit corridors as well.
Spiegel said he supports density in the right places, and has worked to create incentives to focus development at transit. He sees transit as a draw for developers to build nearby, allow building height increases near transit, and would work to steer development away for areas "not appropriate for growth."
Bigger differences on Bus Rapid Transit and new highways
On BRT, Moore was unequivocal in his support for dedicating lanes to buses, saying "person-throughput, and not vehicle-throughput, is the key metric here; a lane converted to bus use is more efficient." Spiegel said he supports repurposing lanes for transit, but qualifies his answer that he supports it "in targeted locations where it makes sense."
At the recent Transportation Forum in Silver Spring, both Katz and Spiegel both said they oppose M-83, which has been on the books since the 1960s. But Moore received a "minus" on ACT's scorecard on M-83; he says opposes it, but is open to learning more. I "would first want to gather all the information and public input I can with the advantages of being a sitting Councilmember," he wrote.
Other candidatescampaign website doesn't say much about land use and transportation, other than that he supports the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and "Bus Rapid Transit and dedicated lanes." He's endorsed Councilmember Marc Elrich, who first proposed BRT but is often skeptical of building around transit.
Guled Kassim, a former Marine, immigrated here from Somalia as a child and grew up in Silver Spring before moving to Derwood. While running for District 19 delegate in 2006, he worried that the county's "rate of growth was too fast," but expressed support for the Purple Line.main priorities for "congestion relief are building the Corridor Cities Transitway and a new interchange at I-270 and Watkins Mill Road, which would serve a transit-oriented development being built at the Metropolitan Grove MARC station. He also supports "big improvements in existing intersections for a freer flow of traffic" during rush hour, though that may make the area's roads even more impassable for pedestrians and cyclists.
Most people might know District 3 as the home of Rockville Pike and the Montgomery County Agricultural Fairgrounds. But in recent years, Rockville and Gaithersburg are leading the county's larger shift to becoming a more urban, diverse place. As a result, whoever becomes the area's next county councilmember will have a big role to play in its future.
Both of the Democratic candidates running in Montgomery County's District 1, stretching from Chevy Chase to Poolesville, agree on most smart growth issues. Both of them have past experience on the County Council. But one candidate has a stronger record of leadership on transit and complete streets.
District 1 is geographically diverse, containing urban, suburban, and rural communities. The wealthiest of the five council districts, it's home to some of the county's most engaged residents, generating twice as many constituent requests as other districts.
This year, incumbent Roger Berliner is running for a third term against former at-large councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, who lost her seat in 2010. Both candidates scored identically on ACT's questionnaire, each professing strong support for the Purple Line, bicycle and pedestrian-friendly road designs, dedicating existing traffic lanes for BRT, opposing the M-83 highway, and increasing housing in urban centers.
Candidates agree on most things, but Berliner pushes to make them happen
As District 1 is the most expensive part of Montgomery County, both candidates focused on ways the county can preserve and increase the supply of affordable housing, especially near transit. Berliner has sponsored legislation that requires the co-location of affordable housing with any new capital projects in the county, such as police or fire stations. In her answers, Trachtenberg supports amending the zoning code to favor denser development near transit.
Notably, Councilmember Berliner, a former legislative director on Capitol Hill and well-known environmental lawyer, has made sustainability and utility reform some of his top priorities. He has demonstrated a significant willingness and capability to champion transit, cycling, and pedestrian issues in the county.
As the current chair of the County Council's Transportation and Environment committee, he effectively shepherded the county's Bus Rapid Transit plan to a unanimous vote last November for an ambitious plan that preserves dedicated lanes on most of the system. He has also authored an update to the county's Urban Road Code designed to create more complete streets in urban areas like Bethesda, and been a strong supporter of the major suburban redevelopment efforts in White Flint.
Surprisingly, Berliner has done all of this while retaining support in some unlikely places; Pat Burda, mayor of the Town of Chevy Chase and a Purple Line opponent, is publicly supporting him in this election.
Trachtenberg's views on development evolved over election cycles
Trachtenberg, a dedicated local and national advocate for women's equality and mental health issues, joined the council in 2006 on a slow-growth platform with Councilmember Marc Elrich and County Executive Ike Leggett. But she may be best known for two bills she successfully passed in 2007, one prohibiting transgender discrimination and the nation's first countywide ban on trans fats in restaurants.
Campaigning to slow development appealed to voters in 2006, during the midst of the housing boom, but Trachtenberg changed her tune as the recession took hold and people were eager for economic growth. During her 2010 reelection campaign, she expressed support for the redevelopment of White Flint and the Great Seneca Science Corridor, citing them both as examples of how to build near public transit.
This year, meanwhile, Trachtenberg accepted support from developers who were upset by the council's vote to significantly limit development in the sensitive Ten Mile Creek watershed near Clarksburg. Councilmember Berliner helped make that happen, but Trachtenberg's campaign tried to make it sound like he did the opposite while claiming she opposed the development.
Both candidates have said all of the right things when it comes to sustainable transportation and smart growth. But for voters, it's less clear whether both candidates are able to take a leadership role on those issues, shepherding in a more urban, sustainable equitable future along District 1's transit corridors while protecting the farms and parkland elsewhere.
Candidate who's "concerned" about Purple Line gets angry when pro-Purple Line organization gives her a low score
If you're running for office, you'd like to get votes from everyone, and avoid angering people. A lot of candidates try to do this by expressing "support" for big projects which have a lot of proponents, while also voicing "concerns" to those against the project.
Muriel Bowser was an avid practitioner of this strategy during the DC mayoral primary, favoring things like development at Takoma Metro or DC's zoning update while simultaneously sharing opponents' views. In Montogmery County, at-large council candidate Beth Daly is trying it with the Purple Line, and crying foul when the Action Committee for Transit didn't fall for it.
Bill Turque talked about the controversy in the Washington Post. Daly wrote on the ACT questionnaire that she supports "the east-west connectivity of the Purple Line," but with a long litany of caveats.
She is "still not certain" of what the county will pay, because she "suspect[s]" that the money the state has promised won't go far enough. She wants more effort to "reduce environmental and economic impacts" on the surrounding communities, like noise, trees, and effect on businesses.
The Purple Line has endured decades of debate and political battles. County and state leaders have made a decision about what route to build, and made tradeoffs about all of these issues. The federal government is on board. But it's pretty clear from reading Daly's answer that she doesn't agree with that decision and isn't willing to endorse the specific project that's on the table.
Why is Daly surprised ACT rated her as a Purple Line skeptic?
It's her right to take this view, but she shouldn't be surprised when ACT, an organization for which the Purple Line (as currently proposed, specifically) is perhaps its top issue, doesn't rate her highly.
What's odd about the controversy Turque describes is not that ACT likes the specific Purple Line proposal or Daly doesn't; it's that Daly is angry with ACT when her answer was pretty clear. According to Turque, Daly's husband said he wanted to "grab [ACT President Nick Brand] by the neck" for the scorecard.
Daly tells Turque that the rating was unfair because other people who expressed "concerns" in the past got plus marks. That particularly refers to Marc Elrich, who also holds an at large seat and is ideologically aligned with Daly. He's been a Purple Line skeptic in the past, but when ACT specifically asked on its questionnaire whether candidates would endorse the current Purple Line project "without qualification," Elrich simply wrote "YES."
That means either Elrich has moved past any former concerns and now supports the project as it's being proposed, or he was not being truthful on the questionnaire. He argued to Turque that Daly's answers were not negative. Sorry, that doesn't fly. The question was pretty clear.
Turque also talks about a lot of inside baseball controversy about whether ACT leaders were trying to help incumbent at-large member George Leventhal. An ACT board member who's close to Leventhal apparently wanted questions about the Purple Line at a recent candidate forum to not focus on affordable housing around Purple Line stations. The Coalition for Smarter Growth's Kelly Blynn, who in her professional role for a nonprofit is not trying to help a particular candidate or another, refused and left the question in.
More information can help voters decide
The Purple Line is very much worth building as proposed, but that doesn't mean candidates don't deserve credit or scorn for their stances on other matters. Affordable housing along the Purple Line is important, and hopefully Montgomery County will take many steps to ensure that the communities around its stations remain mixed-income.
Daly pushed to reduce the amount of development in Clarksburg, which is far from transit, at the edge of the region's core, and not the best place for a lot of new housing. (Leventhal also voted to reduce development in Clarksburg.) The ACT scorecard doesn't cover every single factor voters might use to weigh the candidates.
However, politicians have a lot of incentive to dodge questions and blur their positions. Good reporting (often absent in political campaigns) cuts through the fog and helps voters know who actually shares their values. So do advocacy scorecards.
Muriel Bowser successfully kept the focus off her actual views in the DC campaign. ACT is trying not to make the Montgomery races work this way. Other organizations can do the same for other issues besides the ones ACT focuses on. Any candidate who wants to play both sides of an issue shouldn't be surprised if he or she gets called out for it.
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